Dealing with bullying and harassment has always been part of the not so nice side of working in HR. We all know this stuff happens. But we are hearing more and more stories, more and more people coming forward and saying…. this happened to me.
There isn’t always a clear cut way to deal with any particular situation – and the HR role isn’t always an easy one. How should we approach issues that are raised? How best to investigate? Should we show zero tolerance or be more lenient? How can we balance the needs of individuals and organisations?
In this conference session we are exploring a scenario to ‘flex our ethical muscles’. We are being led by Kate Griffiths-Lambeth, Inji Duducu and Julie Denis.
We discuss and debate a fictional case study.
How do we approach situations where there are no witnesses? Because there so often aren’t. How do we best support both the individual raising concerns and the individual to whom the allegations are addressed? Both have needs whilst a process is on-going. How do we preserve the reputation or the organisation – is radical transparency the way forward – or should we be in protection mode? How do we identify cultures where bullying and harassment are the norm – are they obvious, hiding in plain sight where many people know what is going on and keep the silence, or are they under the radar? Where is the line between robust performance management and bullying? And just what is the role of HR in all of this?
The issue of the NDA comes up, something that has been in the press of late. Should we use them, or are they just a tool that a serial harasser can hide behind?
Inji makes an important point. So many cases are essentially one version of events is positioned against another. This is where detailed, specific training is of benefit. To help you be as thorough as possible, to look for that important, nuanced detail.
Julie Dennis tells us that what happens in one specific investigation is just part of the story. It is also what you do afterwards, and the extent to which you publically state your intentions, set your organisational standards and address inappropriate behaviour when it is identified.
For what they are worth, here are my thoughts.
There are no easy answers to this stuff. Cases are rarely clear cut.
We are fundamentally talking about culture, and power. Hard to change, hard to challenge.
Coming forward is hard. Bringing a complaint, going through the formal process, harder still. For this reason, it isn’t just the accused that can sometimes welcome a settlement agreement.
In HR, we can come under pressure to make this stuff go away. To clear it up. Prioritise the business. The easy option is to comply – it’s not just those who are on the receiving end of inappropriate behaviour that are fearful about standing up – HR can be too. In those cases that have hit the headlines, behind the high profile, accused individual is probably a HR person sorting out the detail – and lots of other people who know what is really going on.
At the same time, we are often the people that know when there is a problem in this space. We see the attrition and sickness data, we hear the rumours. People ask if they can talk to us ‘in confidence’.
As HR professionals, we have a duty of care when we do what we do. As Inji says, it is our job to get to the truth – even though this can sometimes be easier said than done.
Our job is to be fair, reasonable, impartial. Our job is to advise and guide the organisation, and make sure that process stuff gets done properly. I also believe it is our job to stand up. Stand up and speak up. Zero tolerance. Call out the inappropriate behaviour, the banter, the person that think’s it is okay to misuse their power. For that is how we affect real change. How we make a real difference.
This is how we move from Me Too to No More.
This is a live blog from the CIPD Conference. Please ignore any typos.